Monday, December 31, 2012

The Mist of a Boo

My phone rings, I answer to hear,  "Happy New Year Coach!" 
"Happy New Year!" I respond. 

I apologized for not recognizing her voice, explained unavailable showed on my phone screen, so I didn't even know where the call was coming from and I asked who it was. I heard her laugh, "It's been a long while, I am not sure if you will remember me but its Boom, your mist of a boo!"

It took me a second to make the connection, place a face with the nickname. because I had never technically coached her. The two of us laughed as we walked down memory lane, filling in each other's memory gaps.
She was this little bitty thing, cheering on a younger team. She would stay after her football game to watch my older kids cheer.  I dubbed her Boo because she always tried to sneak up behind me, make me jump.  She was one of the kids who constantly told me she couldn’t wait to get older, cheer on my team and be one of my girls.
I remember the many conversations between the cheerleading commissioner and myself. Her coach was frustrated with her team, especially the young girl I called Boo. She was too small to base and because she had been dropped to the ground the year before she was afraid to fly, she constantly gave up on builds and bailed. Kim our of frustration joked, the team was a stunting nightmare and asked if I could go help with the younger team, “work my magic”.   Never one to say no, or turn down a stunting challenge, I agreed.

Boo showed up at our next game and I asked my kids a favor. I asked a few of my more experienced bases to put her up so I could see what she was like in the air. I was hoping with the help of my girls, the ones she looked up to and admired, together we could start chipping away at her fear of being dropped. Give her the confidence to go back in the air and fly. The first time the girls tried to put her up, she bent her leg, crumpled and came right back down.  I saw the panic in her eyes as they took her up, much faster than she was used to. I told them to try again. 
As she stood in her load in position, her head was down, shoulders dropped; I had seen that look before, that was the position of giving up. I knew it didn’t matter who was under her, she did not trust herself or them, she was afraid. I told Boo to look me in the eyes. I ran through the basics, always keep her head and eyes up, shoulders and hips squared, elbows up so she could push off, then prep, and stand up and lock the leg out. It was a piece of cake she just had to want to do it.  I lifted her chin, smiled and assured her, she could do it. I would never let her get hurt; she had my girls underneath her, she would not hit the ground as long as I was around.  She could do it, I had enough faith in her for the both of us. I reminded her, a single leg lib is a simple build. Next I asked my girls to take her up slow and keep her up there until I said bring her back down.
This time she stood up, my girls had her fully extended but once she was up, she kept bending her knee, trying to bail, force my girls to bring her down. My girls even more stubborn than I am, followed my instructions and refused to sweep her. Every time she bent her knee, waved her arms, one of my taller kids extra spotting would push her butt back up, forcing her to stand up. I stood in front, instructing her, keep your head up, lock your leg, don’t swing your arms, you are up there, you can do this, you are not coming down until you lock it out and stand.  Elizabeth who was basing her, yelled, “You are light. We can stay here all night so just lock your leg out.”  Boo finally steadied herself and stood in perfect lib. I gave her a thumbs up, yelled "That’s it you are doing it!"  As promised once she hit and held the lib I gave my bases the 1,2 to cradle (bring her down, catch her).  I saw a huge smile when they caught her, and that confirmed her heart loved to fly but her brain was afraid of falling.   

As long as the heart is in the game, you can eventually get the brain to get with the program.  I told my girls, load up do it again, reminded her to lock out, show everyone watching she was a flyer.  I reminded her if she wanted to be one of my kids one day,  number one rule, don’t give up, fight for every build.  We went through the drill several times, load in, up, hold, cradle.  The more she hit the happier she became, I still remember her yelling at her Dad to take her picture. She was proud; so was I.

The following week I showed up at her practice to help their coach work on team stunting.  I watched as my Boo loaded up, bend her leg and fall before she ever got close to standing up. Each time I would correct her bases, correct her form and say let’s do this again. It was obvious, she was scared and her bases were scared. Her entire group was defeated they had no faith in themselves or each other. They were giving up before they even started.

I pulled Boo aside to give her a personal pep talk. I reminded her she could fly, she had flown with my girls; she was beautiful in the air. If she could fly with my girls, there was no reason why she could fly with her team. She was always in control, it was up to her if she hit or she fell. She tried to give me the excuse, it was her bases they always give up first. I explained, her bases were afraid because she was afraid. How would she like to be a base, and be under a girl who constantly gave up?  Fear was contagious and so was fearless.  She controlled which one her group would be infected by. Instead of giving up she needed to fight, she needed lead, to show everyone underneath her she was not afraid, they could do it together. I could tell by her expressions she was still not convinced. Again, she gave me the excuse her bases moved, it was hard to stand, she was afraid they were going to drop her, she would hit the floor again. 

As a coach, my kids will tell you I use some really ‘different’ analogies for my motivational talks. I use what pops in my brain at the time, which at times can be a bit interesting. 
It was raining outside so I asked her if she was afraid of Thunderstorms, she rolled her eyes and said not since she was a little kid.  I explained she could always be a mist of a boo, the flyer who comes down in a simple drizzle or she could become a BOOM, the flyer who goes up and stays up even in a heavy thunderstorm.  She needed to think of her bases as the wind, the wind doesn’t stand still, it always moves and shifts. No matter how much her bases shifted, she had to be fearless, lock her leg out and stand up.  Thunder never stopped or gave up because the wind was moving. I always believed the stronger the wind the louder the boom. As a flyer, the more her bases moved the stronger she had to be. No matter what was going on underneath her, she had to be fearless, squeeze everything and lock out. If she did that, her bases could get her up and keep her up. I added personally I thought she was more of a Boom than a Boo. In fact after watching her fly with my girls I knew she was a Boom, she just needed to see it to. Have faith.

I patted her on her back and sent her back to her build group. They loaded up and down she came.  I told them it was okay, made a few corrections and adjustments, then before I said 1,2 I heard her small voice say, “We can do this.”  Once again she came down. Not allowing the frustration to build, I told them it was okay, that is what practice is for, to learn, falling was a part of learning. I lifted Boo's chin, smiled at her and instead of hanging her head back down, this time she said a little louder, “We can do this.”   By the end of the night, her constant, we can do it, her determination caught on and her stunt group was hitting and staying up. More importantly they were smiling and starting to gain confidence they were missing before. They even learned to twist in a half.  When I left, I gave my boo and her group each a high five and I told her to keep booming away. 

I would go back to her practice several more times, helping them learn and master new stunts. I will never forget at counties; watching my little bitty flyer who weeks before was terrified of stunting, hit all her builds. She ran off the floor with a huge smile, gave me a high five, a hug and proudly announced "I am officially a Boom."
My little boom never cheered for me, her father was in the Army and they were reassigned/moved the following year.

After reminiscing, I asked her after all these years why she called? I was happy she called but technically I was never her coach so her call truly surprised me.
She explained, she was home on leave before being deployed. She was helping her mom go through some old boxes, organize her things, when she came across some of her old cheerleading photographs and papers.  My cell phone number was on the bottom of one of the GORC contact sheets.  She was happy I still had the same number. I confessed that is why I always kept it, so my kids could always find me no matter how long it had been.

She was excited to learn I was still coaching. She envied my girls; she had always wanted to cheer on my squad.  She told me she cheered in high school, was a flyer and I would be proud she never bailed, she always fought to stay up. It didn't matter how many times she was dropped, she stayed fearless and got back up.  She always remembered to lead with confidence not fall with fear.

She called because she wanted to let me know when she was in OCS (officer candidate school) there were times she was tired, hurt, sore, ready to give up, for some reason she reflected back to her days at GORC and my crazy faith in her.  She reminded herself, she was always a Boom she never again wanted to be the mist of a boo that gave up. 

She wanted me to know how much it meant to her that I took time to talk to her, encourage and work with her. In her eyes I was the cool coach, I taught the older girls. She would watch the interaction I had with my cheerleaders at football games, the fun we shared and she wanted to be one of my girls. In a way I was her idol, she looked up to me, my girls and I paid attention to her, made her feel special and taught her she could do anything. Before she deployed she wanted to make sure I understood how much it helped her grow. 

Sometimes we never realize, it’s the moments, the conversations, the practices we forget. They are inconsequential at the time. We never recognize its the small tidbits of our life that can have the biggest impact on another’s.  

For most of my adult life I have coached either gymnastics or cheerleading.  I have worked with hundreds of children. I teach them for a few years and as in all things in life, they move on, they leave me. As a coach, I hope, I pray I have had a positive influence on them; I have been able to help them grow, reach their full potential.

Without a doubt, my kids have helped me to become a better me, a better coach and I pray I have done the same for them.  I hope they always look back with laughter and smiles at the times we worked, played, and accomplished many goals together, as a team.

I confess there are days when I leave practice and I am never quite sure if I used the right words, if I am really reaching them, are they listening, and I wonder all things a coach wonders.

…then the phone rings and a voice from my past is there reminding me exactly why I coach. Confirmation, crazy analogies and all I am not doing such a bad job.
Today's phone call also reminded me how neglectful I have been.

When I coach, instruct,encourage, give my crazy speeches and pep talks, it's not just me; the words, the methods are all formed from the influences of my past coaches, friends and teachers. I think it's about time I let those wonderfully special people know how much they have meant in my life. How much of what they taught me, I have absorbed and passed on to my kids. It really is a wonderful legacy we coaches share. 

So maybe a great resolution for 2013, is to reach back, remind all the people in our past how much they have meant to us.  How much they have influenced us all. 

Happy New Year everyone!! Be safe and God Bless.   

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Memory - I'll Be Home for Christmas

When I was little, most Christmases our family would travel to Lebanon, Pennsylvania to spend the holiday with my Nana Kay. The day after we arrived, Mom, Dad and Debbie would head out to do last minute Christmas and grocery shopping. Since I was a ‘handful’ at the store, I was always left behind. I never thought of it as punishment, for me it was a treat, Nana Kay and I would spend the day baking the final round of Christmas cookies. It is where I discovered the magic of baking.

 I loved her kitchen and often wish I could step back into it; the old white stove with black grates, the square table that sat in the middle, my magnetic paper dolls often adorned the wide metal band that circled the table top, the silver chairs, the peeling sound they made when you got up from the white plastic vinyl cushions. On the right side of the kitchen was the 'dish' sink, it was so tall I had to stand on a stool to wash my hands.  I remember how the oven would warm up the kitchen, the heat would at times be so hot Nana Kay would open the back door, slide down the window on the screen door and let the cold winter air in to cool down the house. 

Next to the kitchen was the formal living room, a place where children were never allowed to sit or play. It was the room with the fancy furniture, end tables with huge doilies, an over-sized curio cabinet I was convinced I could live in and a long table covered with old family photographs that ran the wall of the staircase. I was banished to my room once for knocking down the pictures with my dangling feet as I slid down the banister. Other than the  enticing banister, the room always seemed old, uninviting except for Christmastime. After Thanksgiving the room was a mecca of wonderful. It came alive with feather trees, angels with glittering hair, greens with red bows adorning their drapes, candles that once lit cast dancing shadows on the wall. The trophy of the magnificent room, on the back wall, standing between two large green wing chairs graced with playful Santas and under a set of large shiny red Christmas bells that hung from the ceiling, was a beautiful old hi fi stereo. It was huge, it was wooden and it was awesome. I loved the sound of the brass hinges as I lifted the lid and set the arm to hold it open.  The speaker in the front looked like a black mesh flower, the legs were beautifully sculpted, the sides always polished to a shine.  It was beautiful when it sat silent and it transformed to magnificent when it came alive with music. The only time I was allowed to enter the room and play the stereo unsupervised was Christmas baking day. 

Before Nana Kay would light the oven, measure any ingredient, she would retrieve her Christmas albums from the cabinet and lay them next to Santa in the chair. My job, when an album finished playing, I would replace it with the next one in the pile. As the day wore on the stack in one chair would grow larger as the other stack diminished. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Doris Day, the King Family, Elvis Presley, I had them all memorized and would joyfully sing along with each. 

Decca Records, Bing Crosby in a Santa Hat wearing a holly bow tie, with ‘Bing’ signed on the side. The album was White Christmas and I remember it so vividly, not for its title song but for another track, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”. When the song ended Nana Kay would tell me to "run and play it again". I would stand on my tippy toes so I could see the album spinning below and safely grab the needle. I would scrunch my nose and squint my eyes as I carefully identified the correct blank track. Curling my lower lip, slightly biting it I would steady my hand so as not to drop the needle or let it bounce as I placed it back down at the beginning of the song. To make sure I had placed the needle in the proper spot, I would wait for the orchestra to begin before I would turn and skip back into the kitchen. When the Bing Crosby finished and the choir began to sing Nana Kay would take my hand and we would dance around the table. The flour from my apron seemed to mimic a light snowfall as it danced its way to the floor as she spun me. Our last Christmas together, we must have danced to the song a dozen times. What I remember most, I was always puzzled, no matter how many times the song played; Nana Kay never sang the lyrics correctly. Her words were only slightly off, but they were still obviously wrong. I never pointed out her mistake, I never asked why; I was nine, I didn't question, I sang along and enjoyed our dance together. 

It was several years after Nana Kay’s death, when I was in college that I re-discovered her old Christmas Albums while searching for a box of lost ornaments in the basement. I pulled the box from where it had been neatly hidden and placed it on the floor next to Dad’s work bench so I could easily retrieve it later. After the tree had been decorated and my parents and sister went off to bed, I decided to dust off the Old Christmas albums and see if they still played. I pulled the box out from the work shop and loaded up my stereo. 

The fire was dancing in the Franklin stove as I lie on the couch, waiting. I heard the record drop, with the sound of the arm moving across the stereo I began to hold my breath. At first there was only static, slowly the crackling from album’s age gave way to Bing Crosby’s beautiful baritone voice. I smiled as I listened to my old familiar Christmas ‘friend’. I was snuggled deep in my blanket when I heard the familiar orchestra and guitar intro for "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I rolled over on my back, closed my eyes, put my arms in the air, so my Nana Kay could spin me once again. As we 'danced' and I sang along I finally realized it wasn’t a mistake, Nana Kay purposely changed the lyrics. Her words were, in a way, a love letter to my Grandfather. He had died at the age of 36 shortly after returning home from World War II. Now I understood why she often looked to the ceiling as we danced, she was singing to heaven. I understood why she wanted me to “run and play it again” and again and again. Irving Berlin’s song from so long ago; was Nana Kay’s Christmas love song to her Marlin, my grandfather. 

The older I become, the more I can relate to the longing that was in her voice as she sang. Life has taught me when you lose someone you love, the years may pass, memories may fade, but the love never changes, the hurt never fades. 

Tonight after the Christmas Eve service, as everyone was bustling around me saying their Merry Christmases and good byes; I sat quietly in the pew and said a prayer. I prayed for all the men and women who died serving our country that will never be home for Christmas. I prayed for the family and friends they left behind, who if they are like me will be dreaming of a Christmas one more time with the person they love and miss. When I finished my prayer I quietly sang my Nana Kay’s version of I’ll Be Home For Christmas especially to my Grandpa (Lt. Col. Marlin R. Kopp) and Bobby (Lt. Robert T. Bianchi) and to my friends, Kevin (Cdr. Kevin A. Bianchi) and Pete (Cdr. Pete Oswald) who never made it back home.

So this Christmas, I thought I would share my Nana Kay’s story… and hopefully, who knows maybe next time you hear “I’ll Be Home Christmas” you will sing her lyrics, then quietly say a prayer for all servicemen and women who will only be home in the hearts and dreams of the loved ones they left behind. 

Below are her lyrics, (Please note, on the newer recorded versions of the song, there is an intro that was not on the older Bing Crosby rendition, so I added my own changed lyrics to match my Nana Kay’s. I hope you don’t mind) 

I’m dreaming tonight 
Of a man I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it was a long time ago
I promise you

You’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
We’ll have snow and mistletoe 
And presents under the tree 
Christmas Eve will find you
Where the love light gleams
You’ll be home for Christmas
Forever in my dreams